Home Virginia is offensively-challenged: What can Tony Bennett do to find more points?

Virginia is offensively-challenged: What can Tony Bennett do to find more points?

Chris Graham
tony bennett
Photo: UVA Athletics

Virginia ranks 170th in offensive efficiency in KenPom, roughly 50th percentile nationally, basically an average college basketball offense.

I shouldn’t even bring up that the lowest-ranked offense to win a national championship in the KenPom era was UConn back in 2014, which ranked 57th in the final pre-NCAA Tournament numbers.

It’s not a sin to just up and say, nope, this particular Virginia team is not a contender for the Final Four. I’m not saying anything out of turn here; Virginia just doesn’t have anywhere near enough punch on offense to be able to contend for much more than a one-and-done appearance in the Big Dance.

The reason for that ceiling: opposing coaches only have two guys to think about in crafting their defensive game plans – point guard Reece Beekman and shooting guard Isaac McKneely.

It’s hard to play two-on-five

uva reece beekman wake8
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

“I think you’re seeing Reece and Isaac, when they’re out there, getting blanketed pretty hard, and those guys are kind of helping off and then getting back quick and making certain things challenging,” UVA coach Tony Bennett told reporters last night.

Bennett’s team had just scored 41 points in a loss for the second time this season – last night, it was a 75-41 loss to a Virginia Tech team that had been giving up 80.8 points per game in a recent five-game stretch in which it had lost four times.

Those Hokies, ranked 101st in defensive efficiency coming into last night’s game, have probably had, you can imagine, a hard time stopping the scout team offense in practice.

But last night, man, they were a friggin’ stone wall.

Beekman, who had been averaging 18.5 points and 5.5 assists in his previous six games coming in, had just seven points and two assists, and three turnovers, on 3-of-10 shooting.

uva isaac mckneely ball wake forest
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

McKneely had scored 15.0 points per game over the previous six; he had a deceptive 11 points last night.

I call his 11 deceptive because, nine came in the second half, in a game that had already been decided a couple of minutes before we hit halftime.

McKneely, after the game, chalked up Virginia’s lackluster offensive numbers – 32.7 percent shooting, 2-of-12 shooting from three, 3-of-20 shooting on midrange twos – to the basics of “we just weren’t screening, and we weren’t cutting well.”

Bennett tried to say something similar: “the quality of our screens wasn’t good tonight to get those guys some more bumps,” the coach started his analysis, before hitting on what the bigger issue is.

“They’re playing Isaac really hard and Reece really hard, and they’re really kind of zoning off some of the other guys, and you’re trying to find ways to get it to them, but at times, that’s, you know, they’re really kind of helping off those guys, and we’ve seen that before,” Bennett said,

And why this is, it’s no secret.

Opponents don’t have to respect the other three guys on the floor, is what’s going on.

The other three spots

uva andrew rohde
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

We’ll start with Andrew Rohde, who is entrenched as the starter at the third guard spot basically because Bennett can’t find anybody on the roster who can beat him out for the minutes.

Rohde’s season offense numbers are atrocious for a guy getting 26.4 minutes per game – he’s averaging 4.6 points and 3.0 assists, shooting 30.3 percent from the floor overall, and 27.6 percent from three.

Then factor in how he’s doing over his last 11 games: 2.8 points and 2.9 assists per game, 22.2 percent shooting overall, 27.6 percent from three.

You can see the defensive game plan in action when he comes off screens, and the guy guarding him voluntarily gives him space, and when defenders sag off him when the ball swings his way around the perimeter.

uva ryan dunn lane wake
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Next, to Ryan Dunn, who the starter at the four spot, and as much a talent as he is on the defensive end, man, oh man, does Virginia miss having Jayden Gardner, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons, at the four.

Dunn, on the season, is averaging 8.6 points on 57.6 percent shooting, but his productivity has been very much in decline of late.

Dunn, over his last seven games, has scored a total of 30 points – that’s an average of 4.3 points per game – on 14-of-27 shooting from the floor, 0-of-2 from three, 2-of-9 at the line.

Dunn, as I’ve come to write about his offensive game, has a derivative offensive game, wholly dependent on teammates getting him the ball on cuts, or getting buckets off offensive rebounds.

He’s not going to beat anybody off the dribble, and he can’t hit even unguarded jumpers – per Synergy Sports, Dunn is 4-of-21 this season on unguarded jumpers, which translates to 19.0 percent shooting.

Slack off him when he gets the ball anywhere from 10 feet out, body him up on cuts, and you’ve contained him.

uva jordan minor vt
Jordan Minor. Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

The other spot, five, center, is split between Jordan Minor (4.1 ppg, 48.8% FG) and Blake Buchanan (3.7 ppg, 41.9% FG), both of whom are limited on the offensive end to being there to set screens and catch pocket passes.

Bennett’s mover-blocker and middle triangle sets don’t often get the ball into the post for post-ups –Minor and Buchanan have each attempted just eight shots this season off post-ups.

Minor, at least, is good on post-ups – he’s 6-of-8, though, warning, yes, small sample size.

Buchanan is 2-of-8 on post-ups; Dunn is 2-of-9.

The other big, 6’9” stretch four Jake Groves, who was used for a good portion of the season as an undersized five, is 1-of-7 on post-ups.

Ideas for a fix

ben vander plas
Photo: UVA Athletics

Last year, Bennett devised some ball-screen action with Beekman, Kihei Clark and Ben Vander Plas to take advantage of BVP’s ability to stretch defenses as a big on the perimeter.

I’m curious as to why we haven’t seen Bennett use this kind of approach more with Beekman and Groves, who is a much better shooter from three (49.4 percent) than Vander Plas was (30.3 percent from three last season).

uva jake groves jumper wake
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

Last night, we saw Groves used a good bit as an oversized third guard, which, I understand the idea – get him running off screens to see if he can get some open looks on the perimeter.

Problem being, Groves isn’t quick off cuts, and too often catches without a sliver of an opening to shoot, and kicks the ball back out to the top to restart the offense.

His perimeter shooting is more a function of success on spot-ups – per Synergy’s data, Groves is 39-of-75 (52.0 percent) this season on spot-ups.

He’s shot a total of 29 jumpers of pick-and-pops and screens – shooting them at a good clip, hitting 14-of-29, 48.3 percent.

Getting him more looks off pick-and-pops and stationed in the corner would seem to be his best use, but doing that means using him more, in Bennett’s offense, as a four, and the complicating factor there is, do you put him in the post on defense, because that didn’t work back in November and December, when Groves’ limitations as a rebounder killed Virginia on the defensive boards.

If Bennett could use Dunn as a guard on the offensive end, then you could go more with a Dunn-Groves-Minor/Buchanan grouping at the 3-4-5 spots, but Dunn’s limitations on offense are only magnified with him being on the perimeter.

If only he could catch and occasionally take the ball to the rim off the dribble; maybe next year (if he’s back next year).

It would also help if McKneely could develop a third dimension to his offense. He recently added a second, the ability to score in the midrange – he was 21-of-64 (32.8 percent) on midrange twos in the first 19 games of the season; in his last seven, he’s 18-of-34 (52.9 percent).

The third level, getting to the basket, translates not only into driving layups for him, but assists to teammates when he draws defenders.

Right now, no, that part of the game isn’t there; McKneely, on the season, is 7-of-26 (26.9 percent) on shots at the rim.

This is why you see McKneely averaging 1.7 assists per game; he’s not earned the respect of defenders to be able to finish at the rim to draw help, which is what opens up shots for cutters and spot-up guys.

That’ll come, probably next year.

Where things stand

uva basketball
Photo: Mike Ingalls/AFP

In the here and now, all the creation is left to Beekman, who leads the team in scoring (13.9 ppg), shots at the rim (124, shooting 60.5 percent) and assists (5.8 per game).

Opponents game-plan to have their threes, fours and fives cheat off their guys to help with Beekman, zone off McKneely coming off screens, and if the one of the other guys beat you, so be it.

That this Virginia team has won 20 games to this point, and will likely end up with 22, 23, maybe (?) 24 by Selection Sunday, is a feat of engineering on the part of Bennett and the staff.

There’s still potential with this group.

Rohde was a 17.1-points-per-game scorer a year ago; if he could just give this group eight to 10 a game consistently, that opens up the floor a bit more.

Dunn using his motor to cut to the rim off backdoors and get offensive rebounds could get him back up to low double-digits.

Groves averaged 14.3 points a game during a recent four-game run; hey, he did it before, why not again, right?

Minor and Buchanan have put up individual big nights on the offensive end; just a consistent six to eight points a game, which would keep opponents honest on their screens, is all we’re asking for here.

I’ll tell you what, though – to get there, they’re going to have to start taking poor efforts like the one they all laid down for last night a little more personally.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].